Dad's temper is way too hot

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  January 5, 2011 06:00 AM

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Dear Barbara,
Iím concerned about the way my 9-year-old son reacts when he breaks something or something goes wrong in the house. My husband overreacts to situations and has anger management issues. For example, my son was taking a shower and didnít shut the bathroom door all the way, and the smoke alarm went off. It was not the first time this happened. My son came running downstairs to find me, crying hysterically. Meanwhile my husband is yelling, ďI told you that you canít leave the bathroom door open even a little bit when you are taking a shower.Ē He did help to console him afterward.

My husband is one of those people who insists that you put things back in their place so you will know where they are next time. He obsesses about making sure that you turn out the light when you leave a room. He stresses me out at times as well because Iím always thinking Iíve got to turn the light off or Iíll hear my husband say, ďThe light is on in the bedroom; are your done in there?Ē

I canít change my husbandís behavior, but Iíd like to help my son feel less stressed and anxious when something goes wrong. Do you have any suggestions or books I should read? Iíve sought counseling in the past for me, Iím not sure if it makes sense to get my son involved at this point. Thanks in advance.

From: MKB, Framingham

Dear MKB,

Your son came downstairs to find you crying hysterically? Because you knew your husband would be so angry with him? And actually, you never do say how your son reacts....

There's a lot of information missing here but I think I have enough to say that this sounds like a serious situation that warrants professional intervention because, yes, it can't be healthy for your son to be living in an environment where one parent is a powder keg continually on the verge of explosion and the other is a mass of nerves in anticipation of that explosion. Does your husband acknowledge he has a problem with anger management? Will he go for help? What about couples' counseling, or parent coaching? I can't offer an opinion on whether your son needs counseling as well because you never really talk about him, but it doesn't sound like it could hurt. Have you ever talked to him about his father's anger and about your vulnerability? Because it's not just his dad's anger that is putting him at risk; your response is also a problem.

MKB, your situation does not sound healthy and potentially sounds abusive. It is not normal to cry hysterically because your son's hot shower sets off your husband. Emotional abuse is no less damaging than physical abuse. Both you and your son are victims. I don't know why you stopped your counseling, but I urge you to get help again. There are many hotlines, here, here and here, including sites that are appropriate for your son to read, but you could also ask your pediatrician, clergy or school psychologist for help. Sometimes reaching out is the hardest part. Do it now.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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29 comments so far...
  1. sounds like the mom should shut the lights off when she leaves a room and put things back in the place she found them at for easy location after.
    this dad might deserve a medal for patience after putting up with this flighty woman for years. there is always another side to the story, let us all remember that.

    Posted by petaaahgriffin January 5, 11 08:14 AM
  1. your husband sounds like a jerk. Enough said. Sorry. He sounds like a ticking time bomb.

    Posted by jd January 5, 11 08:31 AM
  1. Another note, have you ever watched "Sleeping with the Enemy"?That movie came to mind in your second paragraph.

    Posted by jd January 5, 11 08:33 AM
  1. I think she meant the boy was crying hysterically and came down to find her.

    Posted by HK January 5, 11 08:57 AM
  1. My dad was like this (including the obsession for putting things back exactly where they are supposed to go). I had no doubt whatsoever that he loved me and the rest of the family; but when reality does not match his expectations, he has the tendency to explode. I know now that he probably has Asperger's syndrome, which wasn't even known as a distinct diagnosis when he was growing up in the 50's and 60's. He did go (and still goes!) to a therapist to help him cope with anger management issues.

    I recommend The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Greene. Yes, it's primarily oriented towards parents dealing with children, but I am learning to use it on my dad. People who explode in the way that you are describing don't want to explode, but it happens before they can stop themselves.

    Posted by DM January 5, 11 09:30 AM
  1. Well, responsible people do put things back in their place when you're done using them. How else will you know exactly where to go look for something the next time you need to use it?
    And turning the lights off when you leave the room is a no brainer - electricity shouldn't be wasted.

    As for the yelling, that's a different issue. Some people just yell. No way to tell if it's good or bad from here. But I'm sure this will turn into a frenzy of suggestions that she take the kid and run, the guy is all bad, blah blah.

    Posted by IK January 5, 11 09:47 AM
  1. I think the letter writer meant that her son was the one crying.

    In any case, I think you all need counseling. If your husband's that much of a control freak, he's going to turn your kid into a neurotic mess if he hasn't already. It's not fair for your child to tiptoe around his dad's moods like that. Your son is going to have serious anxiety issues because he'll always be worrying about his dad's reaction.

    Posted by Kristin January 5, 11 09:59 AM
  1. I think it's a case of a missing comma. She meant that her son came downstairs to find her, crying hysterically.

    Posted by m January 5, 11 10:15 AM
  1. The child was crying hysterically, not the mother!

    I lived with a husband who was just like this - every single thing I did had to be done 'his way', and he insisted on being 'right' at all times. We are divorced, but we do have a son who is now 11. My son is with his father half the time, and is afraid to ever tell his father how he feels, or to express his needs. His father doesn't really yell - but he is extremely harsh, controlling and demanding, and will 'freeze out' anyone who challenges him.

    My son loves his father, but he is anxious and upset whenever he thinks something might 'upset Dad'. There's not much I can do about it, other than to provide an environment in which my son can freely and safely express himself. I intercede where appropriate, but it's next to impossible to do. However, I am thankful that I'm no longer married to this control freak, and that there is a safe place where son can be at least part of the time.

    This letter writer is in a similar situation, though she's still stuck living with the control freak. Her husband has serious issues, but I'm afraid that people with this personality type really don't see any need to 'seek help' - they are always right, and the rest of the world has to change to accommodate them. The LW should insist on family therapy, and get some therapy herself. Both she and her son are being emotionally abused, and if the husband refuses to change, it is in the best interests of herself and her child to leave.

    Posted by CC January 5, 11 10:19 AM
  1. Thanks, readers. The comma has been added to the sentence to avoid further confusion.

    Posted by Angela Nelson, Boston.com Staff Author Profile Page January 5, 11 10:28 AM
  1. Yes, if the son is "crying hysterically" then there is a problem here. However, nothing else mentioned in the letter is cause for alarm, and I wish you ladies who make up the overwhelming majority of people writing here would acknowledge that men are not inherently evil, even when they ask that you put things back where they belong and turn out the light when you leave a room.

    Posted by geocool January 5, 11 11:00 AM
  1. Mom, it's your responsibility to protect your son from bullies, especially if the bully is your husband. Search out Barbara's resources and get help.

    To the contributors who think it's about light switches and neatness, it's not. It's about intimidation and power.

    Posted by cause and effect January 5, 11 11:39 AM
  1. "I wish you ladies ... would acknowledge that men are not inherently evil, even when they ask that you put things back where they belong and turn out the light when you leave a room"

    This is an oddly defensive comment -- unless we've read different blogs, geocool, I don't see any single commenter here saying anything that could remotely be described as implying all men are evil. Where on earth do you get that? Taking someone at his/her word does not equal thinking an entire gender is awful.

    Having said that, the posters *are* taking the LW at her word that her husband has an anger management problem. She doesn't describe his reactions, however. She describes only his triggers.

    So what are the reactions like? LW, can you update and describe them? Wanting things to get put back and lights turned off is something that can be a simple pet peeve, and handled appropriately by asking and reminding people to do these things. Or it could be an occasion for an explosion. You say it is an explosion but hearing *how* and *why* you call it an explosion and an anger problem would be increidbly helpful.

    And if it is an explosion, how is your son treated? And how does your son react? How do you react?

    Specifics would be very helpful here. I'm finding it hard to give advice as it is.

    Posted by jjlean January 5, 11 11:39 AM
  1. I think it is a sad comment on some comment-writers that their first response to this letter and advice is to flinch and try to justify the utterly needless abuse that this father is subjecting his family to.

    Stuff goes missing and some lights remain on for a few extra minutes or hours. If anyone came to me yelling about these "problems" I would laugh in their face. And if the yeller wants to escalate from there, I would escalate right along with them.

    It is ludicrous to privilege order above tolerance and kindness, as this father seems to be doing.

    And yelling is not a valid life-style choice any more than hitting is.

    This father needs to be advised that his behavior is shameful and unacceptable. And the LW should be advised that any person of any age can be required to change their behavior at any time as a condition of an ongoing relationship.

    No-fault divorce is still the rule here in the States, right?

    No one has to lie down for this kind of treatment.

    Posted by neilpaul January 5, 11 12:30 PM
  1. If Dad has a pattern of screaming, insulting, threatening, cussing out, etc. then there is a problem.

    Was Dad truly, obviously "yelling"? Most kids use the word "yelling at me" to describe anything a parent says that's above a conversational tone or expresses the slightest element of frustration or criticism. A somewhat raised voice, saying "Hey, I've told you about a gazillion times, knock that off" should not send a normal kid into weeping hysterics.

    It's hard to tell if Dad was reacting way out of proportion to the situation, or if the kid was, or both, from the description.

    Posted by di January 5, 11 01:00 PM
  1. Verbal abuse and controlling behavior will cause damage. It took years for me to unwind my damage. I would have things thrown at me from outside my bedroom. Things like shampoo left in the...shower, and wet shoes left on the mat by the...door. If this father is anything like my stepfather, he will explode over anything that isn't exactly to his liking. It will create a mess of your son. I think it had a hugely negative impact on my self-confidence and influenced my substance abuse as a teenager.

    Posted by ala January 5, 11 02:08 PM
  1. I totally relate to # 5 DM. My father also had anger management problems, and my mother, who was a "war bride", tended to look the other way, like many in her generation. As a result, my dad did not get the help he needed, and mom did the denial game until it was too.

    Dad felt guilty, and left her after 21 years of marriage because he could no longer deal with his anger in a rational way. He blamed everyone but himself for his actions, and so did the rest of the family. By working with your child rather than the real "elephant in the room", you are leading your son to believe he is responsible for his father's actions.

    Posted by rc January 5, 11 02:26 PM
  1. jjlean, it seems like you didn't read my comment because I never said what you think I said. However, I appreciate your insight that the LW should have focused on the reactions, not the triggers. This is the same point that I was trying to make and I feel that we agree 100%, so thank you!

    I'm upset with the posters (jd, Kristen, neilpaul, even CC though your post is at least thoughtful) who have flown off the handle and appear to be biased against the dad here not because of the bad thing he did, but because of the silly gripes from paragraph #2. He is definitely being vilified here in a way that I feel would not be tolerated were the gender roles reversed, and I have seen it before in this blog.

    The dad here "did help to console him afterward." So he knows what he did was wrong. The therapy you guys recommend will work if it is focused on what is best for the child, not if it's a wishlist for everything mom doesn't like about her husband.

    Posted by geocool January 5, 11 03:53 PM
  1. Barbara,

    "Dear MKB,

    Your son came downstairs to find you crying hysterically?"

    No, the LW said this:

    "My son came running downstairs to find me, crying hysterically."

    That means her son was the one who was crying and hysterical.

    And that's pretty scary for a child, let alone an adult.

    My advice to the LW:

    I was married to someone like your husband.

    Get out, now, before you and your child get hurt. What are you waiting for?

    Posted by reindeergirl January 5, 11 05:07 PM
  1. Could the father have OCD?

    The father needs to be aware of how irrational his beliefs are. He needs to learn just how little energy a light bulb uses, and how a smoke detector is relatively less annoying than a grown man shouting, and at any rate that you don't change people's behaviors by berating them.

    Posted by J January 5, 11 05:41 PM
  1. Barbara, you seem to have missed the comma in "My son came running downstairs to find me, crying hysterically. " Clearly the son was crying, not the mom.

    Posted by Gramma2Be January 5, 11 07:57 PM
  1. Dear Reindeergirl and all the rest of you sharp-eyed readers,
    Doh! Can't believe I didn't catch that, but I'm sure you're all right, that this is a matter of a missing comma. (I hope my Lasell students are reading this; I'm aways talking about how important punctuation is to meaning.) Anyway, even with this added clarity, my opinion doesn't change: this family needs professional help. In fact, if anything, that he's crying hysterically underscores how much help they need.

    Posted by Barbara F. Meltz Author Profile Page January 5, 11 08:20 PM
  1. I agree about getting help. Dad probably doesn't even know how to act differently. I grew up with an explosive father and I can remember placing his silverware perfectly aligned and giving him only china with no cracks and so on. I started setting the table really young, so that's a pretty early memory. I know he loved us but I had mixed feelings about him. My husband is extremely even-tempered and I really like that.

    I think Dad is over-reacting and being unpleasant, but I don't like the dynamic of the kid crying hysterically and running to Mom for protection. This isn't a good dynamic for any of the three of you. Getting yelled at because you left a door open is a case for being upset, not being inconsolable....unless there's more going on that was left out of the letter. Again, family counselling!

    Finally, we had a smoke alarm like that. They aren't supposed to do that. It's defective. Replace it or have the landlord replace it if you live in a rental. Even another unit just like it probably won't have the same problem. Also, install an exhaust fan in the bathroom. Having a smoke alarm go off is extremely irritating to even the calmest person.

    Try to fix things that are irritants. Even the calmest couples find dealing with household issues stressful. Have an energy audit done, for instance, so you know where the electricity goes. Demanding to know when you'll leave a room so that the light can be turned out is kind of obsessive, though.

    Posted by Favorite Auntie January 5, 11 09:02 PM
  1. Move the smoke detector. If it is hardwired an electrician can move it.

    Was at least one of your husband's parents an alcoholic or gambler? Often the children of such parents become neat freaks, highly regimented, and melt down or explode when their well-ordered world is tampered with. They make for awful spouses and bosses.

    IF (and I emphasize IF) your husband has a true personality disorder AND is the main breadwinner, he will continue to rule the roost and brutalize your son. He needs proper treatment from a qualified psychiatrist AND you need to get a well paying job so you have some leverage. If you get brave and separate from your husband you'll need a good lawyer who can get the judge to see him for what he is, otherwise he will win custody of your son.

    Posted by JehanneDark January 5, 11 10:00 PM
  1. Maybe the LW's husband has high blood pressure which can affect a person's temperament. He should take anger management therapy to find out why something like leaving a light on triggers anger. Why doesn't the husband realize that instilling fear in the child will have a negative impact on that child's relationship with him.

    My dad was similar when we were growing up. He was an Archie Bunker type. We use to wonder why she didn't leave. Once he was diagnosed with the high blood pressure issue, medication helped him. My dad is a WW11 war vet and saw action first hand. That doesn't help a person with anger issues.

    Your hubby should seek help as soon as possible.

    Posted by JoAnne January 5, 11 11:37 PM
  1. Personally,I don't think it matters about the comma...the letter has many red flags without even focusing on that missing comma. For one thing,the LW uses words like "obsess" which clearly isn't about putting things back or shutting the lights off etc as it is more about the control of it. The person who mentioned OCD? He very well could have that disorder.
    "My husband overreacts to situations and has anger management issues" Speaks volumes.
    Is the LW exaggerating? Not so sure. We are taking the letter at it is read. However, I think Barbara nailed it on the head as much as she could with the information given. And as Reindeergirl said, if it is as bad as you say it is, get out now.

    Posted by jd January 6, 11 07:17 AM
  1. geocool,

    my comment was based on the information provided, not a bunch of extra assumptions I made about he situation.

    There were three parties described in the letter, two of whom seem upset about the father.

    Why do you think people who take this letter at face value are showing gender bias?

    Why do you think people owe this father the benefit of every doubt before commenting on an Internet advice column site? Do you really think it is feasible to demand that folks only comment when certain as to all aspects of a situation described in a brief letter to Barbara? Would such a standard not be tantamount to disabling the comments section all together?

    Do you find yourself perceiving gender bias very often?

    Believe me, I spend plenty of time haranguing women for their sub-standard behavior.

    It's an equal opportunity situation.

    Posted by neilpaul January 6, 11 12:32 PM
  1. Sounds to me like this is a perfectly normal guy.

    I read it like this: Son sets off alarm. Dad gets upset that alarm went off when he has already told son many times (as this has happened before) to close the door. Son gets upset at combination of loud noise and Dad being upset. Dad consoles son.

    Mom leaves things a mess. Dad likes them put away. Dad gets frustrated when he can't find the things he's looking for because someone took something and didn't put it back.

    Mom leaves the lights on. Dad asks her to turn them off. Mom feels an exorbitant amount of stress because Dad asked her if she shut them off, because she usually doesn't.

    What on Earth is the problem here? If Mom just shuts the lights off (electricity and money saved) and Son shuts the bathroom door like he was asked, everybody's happy. Keep the house a little neater. If Dad has made these perfectly reasonable requests before, I can see why he'd get upset. It drives me crazy when my housemates do things like this, and I definitely convey my annoyance. Where's the need for counseling, again? Did he yell (other than over the noise of the beeping fire alarm)? Berate them? Physically harm them? Insist that the lights be shut off in an unreasonably precise way?

    A spouse asking you if you're done in a room should not cause an extraordinary amount of stress. "Yes" or "I will when I'm finished" should erase that stress. Perhaps the son's over-reaction stems from Mom, not Dad?

    Posted by -- January 6, 11 03:18 PM
  1. I had a dad like this. It's not good for the kid.

    Posted by Been There September 25, 11 10:52 PM
 
29 comments so far...
  1. sounds like the mom should shut the lights off when she leaves a room and put things back in the place she found them at for easy location after.
    this dad might deserve a medal for patience after putting up with this flighty woman for years. there is always another side to the story, let us all remember that.

    Posted by petaaahgriffin January 5, 11 08:14 AM
  1. your husband sounds like a jerk. Enough said. Sorry. He sounds like a ticking time bomb.

    Posted by jd January 5, 11 08:31 AM
  1. Another note, have you ever watched "Sleeping with the Enemy"?That movie came to mind in your second paragraph.

    Posted by jd January 5, 11 08:33 AM
  1. I think she meant the boy was crying hysterically and came down to find her.

    Posted by HK January 5, 11 08:57 AM
  1. My dad was like this (including the obsession for putting things back exactly where they are supposed to go). I had no doubt whatsoever that he loved me and the rest of the family; but when reality does not match his expectations, he has the tendency to explode. I know now that he probably has Asperger's syndrome, which wasn't even known as a distinct diagnosis when he was growing up in the 50's and 60's. He did go (and still goes!) to a therapist to help him cope with anger management issues.

    I recommend The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Greene. Yes, it's primarily oriented towards parents dealing with children, but I am learning to use it on my dad. People who explode in the way that you are describing don't want to explode, but it happens before they can stop themselves.

    Posted by DM January 5, 11 09:30 AM
  1. Well, responsible people do put things back in their place when you're done using them. How else will you know exactly where to go look for something the next time you need to use it?
    And turning the lights off when you leave the room is a no brainer - electricity shouldn't be wasted.

    As for the yelling, that's a different issue. Some people just yell. No way to tell if it's good or bad from here. But I'm sure this will turn into a frenzy of suggestions that she take the kid and run, the guy is all bad, blah blah.

    Posted by IK January 5, 11 09:47 AM
  1. I think the letter writer meant that her son was the one crying.

    In any case, I think you all need counseling. If your husband's that much of a control freak, he's going to turn your kid into a neurotic mess if he hasn't already. It's not fair for your child to tiptoe around his dad's moods like that. Your son is going to have serious anxiety issues because he'll always be worrying about his dad's reaction.

    Posted by Kristin January 5, 11 09:59 AM
  1. I think it's a case of a missing comma. She meant that her son came downstairs to find her, crying hysterically.

    Posted by m January 5, 11 10:15 AM
  1. The child was crying hysterically, not the mother!

    I lived with a husband who was just like this - every single thing I did had to be done 'his way', and he insisted on being 'right' at all times. We are divorced, but we do have a son who is now 11. My son is with his father half the time, and is afraid to ever tell his father how he feels, or to express his needs. His father doesn't really yell - but he is extremely harsh, controlling and demanding, and will 'freeze out' anyone who challenges him.

    My son loves his father, but he is anxious and upset whenever he thinks something might 'upset Dad'. There's not much I can do about it, other than to provide an environment in which my son can freely and safely express himself. I intercede where appropriate, but it's next to impossible to do. However, I am thankful that I'm no longer married to this control freak, and that there is a safe place where son can be at least part of the time.

    This letter writer is in a similar situation, though she's still stuck living with the control freak. Her husband has serious issues, but I'm afraid that people with this personality type really don't see any need to 'seek help' - they are always right, and the rest of the world has to change to accommodate them. The LW should insist on family therapy, and get some therapy herself. Both she and her son are being emotionally abused, and if the husband refuses to change, it is in the best interests of herself and her child to leave.

    Posted by CC January 5, 11 10:19 AM
  1. Thanks, readers. The comma has been added to the sentence to avoid further confusion.

    Posted by Angela Nelson, Boston.com Staff Author Profile Page January 5, 11 10:28 AM
  1. Yes, if the son is "crying hysterically" then there is a problem here. However, nothing else mentioned in the letter is cause for alarm, and I wish you ladies who make up the overwhelming majority of people writing here would acknowledge that men are not inherently evil, even when they ask that you put things back where they belong and turn out the light when you leave a room.

    Posted by geocool January 5, 11 11:00 AM
  1. Mom, it's your responsibility to protect your son from bullies, especially if the bully is your husband. Search out Barbara's resources and get help.

    To the contributors who think it's about light switches and neatness, it's not. It's about intimidation and power.

    Posted by cause and effect January 5, 11 11:39 AM
  1. "I wish you ladies ... would acknowledge that men are not inherently evil, even when they ask that you put things back where they belong and turn out the light when you leave a room"

    This is an oddly defensive comment -- unless we've read different blogs, geocool, I don't see any single commenter here saying anything that could remotely be described as implying all men are evil. Where on earth do you get that? Taking someone at his/her word does not equal thinking an entire gender is awful.

    Having said that, the posters *are* taking the LW at her word that her husband has an anger management problem. She doesn't describe his reactions, however. She describes only his triggers.

    So what are the reactions like? LW, can you update and describe them? Wanting things to get put back and lights turned off is something that can be a simple pet peeve, and handled appropriately by asking and reminding people to do these things. Or it could be an occasion for an explosion. You say it is an explosion but hearing *how* and *why* you call it an explosion and an anger problem would be increidbly helpful.

    And if it is an explosion, how is your son treated? And how does your son react? How do you react?

    Specifics would be very helpful here. I'm finding it hard to give advice as it is.

    Posted by jjlean January 5, 11 11:39 AM
  1. I think it is a sad comment on some comment-writers that their first response to this letter and advice is to flinch and try to justify the utterly needless abuse that this father is subjecting his family to.

    Stuff goes missing and some lights remain on for a few extra minutes or hours. If anyone came to me yelling about these "problems" I would laugh in their face. And if the yeller wants to escalate from there, I would escalate right along with them.

    It is ludicrous to privilege order above tolerance and kindness, as this father seems to be doing.

    And yelling is not a valid life-style choice any more than hitting is.

    This father needs to be advised that his behavior is shameful and unacceptable. And the LW should be advised that any person of any age can be required to change their behavior at any time as a condition of an ongoing relationship.

    No-fault divorce is still the rule here in the States, right?

    No one has to lie down for this kind of treatment.

    Posted by neilpaul January 5, 11 12:30 PM
  1. If Dad has a pattern of screaming, insulting, threatening, cussing out, etc. then there is a problem.

    Was Dad truly, obviously "yelling"? Most kids use the word "yelling at me" to describe anything a parent says that's above a conversational tone or expresses the slightest element of frustration or criticism. A somewhat raised voice, saying "Hey, I've told you about a gazillion times, knock that off" should not send a normal kid into weeping hysterics.

    It's hard to tell if Dad was reacting way out of proportion to the situation, or if the kid was, or both, from the description.

    Posted by di January 5, 11 01:00 PM
  1. Verbal abuse and controlling behavior will cause damage. It took years for me to unwind my damage. I would have things thrown at me from outside my bedroom. Things like shampoo left in the...shower, and wet shoes left on the mat by the...door. If this father is anything like my stepfather, he will explode over anything that isn't exactly to his liking. It will create a mess of your son. I think it had a hugely negative impact on my self-confidence and influenced my substance abuse as a teenager.

    Posted by ala January 5, 11 02:08 PM
  1. I totally relate to # 5 DM. My father also had anger management problems, and my mother, who was a "war bride", tended to look the other way, like many in her generation. As a result, my dad did not get the help he needed, and mom did the denial game until it was too.

    Dad felt guilty, and left her after 21 years of marriage because he could no longer deal with his anger in a rational way. He blamed everyone but himself for his actions, and so did the rest of the family. By working with your child rather than the real "elephant in the room", you are leading your son to believe he is responsible for his father's actions.

    Posted by rc January 5, 11 02:26 PM
  1. jjlean, it seems like you didn't read my comment because I never said what you think I said. However, I appreciate your insight that the LW should have focused on the reactions, not the triggers. This is the same point that I was trying to make and I feel that we agree 100%, so thank you!

    I'm upset with the posters (jd, Kristen, neilpaul, even CC though your post is at least thoughtful) who have flown off the handle and appear to be biased against the dad here not because of the bad thing he did, but because of the silly gripes from paragraph #2. He is definitely being vilified here in a way that I feel would not be tolerated were the gender roles reversed, and I have seen it before in this blog.

    The dad here "did help to console him afterward." So he knows what he did was wrong. The therapy you guys recommend will work if it is focused on what is best for the child, not if it's a wishlist for everything mom doesn't like about her husband.

    Posted by geocool January 5, 11 03:53 PM
  1. Barbara,

    "Dear MKB,

    Your son came downstairs to find you crying hysterically?"

    No, the LW said this:

    "My son came running downstairs to find me, crying hysterically."

    That means her son was the one who was crying and hysterical.

    And that's pretty scary for a child, let alone an adult.

    My advice to the LW:

    I was married to someone like your husband.

    Get out, now, before you and your child get hurt. What are you waiting for?

    Posted by reindeergirl January 5, 11 05:07 PM
  1. Could the father have OCD?

    The father needs to be aware of how irrational his beliefs are. He needs to learn just how little energy a light bulb uses, and how a smoke detector is relatively less annoying than a grown man shouting, and at any rate that you don't change people's behaviors by berating them.

    Posted by J January 5, 11 05:41 PM
  1. Barbara, you seem to have missed the comma in "My son came running downstairs to find me, crying hysterically. " Clearly the son was crying, not the mom.

    Posted by Gramma2Be January 5, 11 07:57 PM
  1. Dear Reindeergirl and all the rest of you sharp-eyed readers,
    Doh! Can't believe I didn't catch that, but I'm sure you're all right, that this is a matter of a missing comma. (I hope my Lasell students are reading this; I'm aways talking about how important punctuation is to meaning.) Anyway, even with this added clarity, my opinion doesn't change: this family needs professional help. In fact, if anything, that he's crying hysterically underscores how much help they need.

    Posted by Barbara F. Meltz Author Profile Page January 5, 11 08:20 PM
  1. I agree about getting help. Dad probably doesn't even know how to act differently. I grew up with an explosive father and I can remember placing his silverware perfectly aligned and giving him only china with no cracks and so on. I started setting the table really young, so that's a pretty early memory. I know he loved us but I had mixed feelings about him. My husband is extremely even-tempered and I really like that.

    I think Dad is over-reacting and being unpleasant, but I don't like the dynamic of the kid crying hysterically and running to Mom for protection. This isn't a good dynamic for any of the three of you. Getting yelled at because you left a door open is a case for being upset, not being inconsolable....unless there's more going on that was left out of the letter. Again, family counselling!

    Finally, we had a smoke alarm like that. They aren't supposed to do that. It's defective. Replace it or have the landlord replace it if you live in a rental. Even another unit just like it probably won't have the same problem. Also, install an exhaust fan in the bathroom. Having a smoke alarm go off is extremely irritating to even the calmest person.

    Try to fix things that are irritants. Even the calmest couples find dealing with household issues stressful. Have an energy audit done, for instance, so you know where the electricity goes. Demanding to know when you'll leave a room so that the light can be turned out is kind of obsessive, though.

    Posted by Favorite Auntie January 5, 11 09:02 PM
  1. Move the smoke detector. If it is hardwired an electrician can move it.

    Was at least one of your husband's parents an alcoholic or gambler? Often the children of such parents become neat freaks, highly regimented, and melt down or explode when their well-ordered world is tampered with. They make for awful spouses and bosses.

    IF (and I emphasize IF) your husband has a true personality disorder AND is the main breadwinner, he will continue to rule the roost and brutalize your son. He needs proper treatment from a qualified psychiatrist AND you need to get a well paying job so you have some leverage. If you get brave and separate from your husband you'll need a good lawyer who can get the judge to see him for what he is, otherwise he will win custody of your son.

    Posted by JehanneDark January 5, 11 10:00 PM
  1. Maybe the LW's husband has high blood pressure which can affect a person's temperament. He should take anger management therapy to find out why something like leaving a light on triggers anger. Why doesn't the husband realize that instilling fear in the child will have a negative impact on that child's relationship with him.

    My dad was similar when we were growing up. He was an Archie Bunker type. We use to wonder why she didn't leave. Once he was diagnosed with the high blood pressure issue, medication helped him. My dad is a WW11 war vet and saw action first hand. That doesn't help a person with anger issues.

    Your hubby should seek help as soon as possible.

    Posted by JoAnne January 5, 11 11:37 PM
  1. Personally,I don't think it matters about the comma...the letter has many red flags without even focusing on that missing comma. For one thing,the LW uses words like "obsess" which clearly isn't about putting things back or shutting the lights off etc as it is more about the control of it. The person who mentioned OCD? He very well could have that disorder.
    "My husband overreacts to situations and has anger management issues" Speaks volumes.
    Is the LW exaggerating? Not so sure. We are taking the letter at it is read. However, I think Barbara nailed it on the head as much as she could with the information given. And as Reindeergirl said, if it is as bad as you say it is, get out now.

    Posted by jd January 6, 11 07:17 AM
  1. geocool,

    my comment was based on the information provided, not a bunch of extra assumptions I made about he situation.

    There were three parties described in the letter, two of whom seem upset about the father.

    Why do you think people who take this letter at face value are showing gender bias?

    Why do you think people owe this father the benefit of every doubt before commenting on an Internet advice column site? Do you really think it is feasible to demand that folks only comment when certain as to all aspects of a situation described in a brief letter to Barbara? Would such a standard not be tantamount to disabling the comments section all together?

    Do you find yourself perceiving gender bias very often?

    Believe me, I spend plenty of time haranguing women for their sub-standard behavior.

    It's an equal opportunity situation.

    Posted by neilpaul January 6, 11 12:32 PM
  1. Sounds to me like this is a perfectly normal guy.

    I read it like this: Son sets off alarm. Dad gets upset that alarm went off when he has already told son many times (as this has happened before) to close the door. Son gets upset at combination of loud noise and Dad being upset. Dad consoles son.

    Mom leaves things a mess. Dad likes them put away. Dad gets frustrated when he can't find the things he's looking for because someone took something and didn't put it back.

    Mom leaves the lights on. Dad asks her to turn them off. Mom feels an exorbitant amount of stress because Dad asked her if she shut them off, because she usually doesn't.

    What on Earth is the problem here? If Mom just shuts the lights off (electricity and money saved) and Son shuts the bathroom door like he was asked, everybody's happy. Keep the house a little neater. If Dad has made these perfectly reasonable requests before, I can see why he'd get upset. It drives me crazy when my housemates do things like this, and I definitely convey my annoyance. Where's the need for counseling, again? Did he yell (other than over the noise of the beeping fire alarm)? Berate them? Physically harm them? Insist that the lights be shut off in an unreasonably precise way?

    A spouse asking you if you're done in a room should not cause an extraordinary amount of stress. "Yes" or "I will when I'm finished" should erase that stress. Perhaps the son's over-reaction stems from Mom, not Dad?

    Posted by -- January 6, 11 03:18 PM
  1. I had a dad like this. It's not good for the kid.

    Posted by Been There September 25, 11 10:52 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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